We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid--tied to the back of everything we'd been doing all along to get us here. There will be death and playing dead, there will be screams and unbearable silences, forever-silences, and a kind of time-travel, at the moment the gunshots start, when we look around and see ourselves as we are, in our regalia, and something in our blood will recoil then boil hot enough to burn through time and place and memory. We'll go back to where we came from, when we were people running from bullets at the end of that old world. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, that we've been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers." (from Goodreads)
I read this book as part of my Indigenous Lit and the West course at Montana State University. It was... difficult. It was also pretty amazing. Told from multiple viewpoints the story unravels in a spiral. You are introduced to characters, introduced to their lives and struggles and hopes. Slowly connections start to form, a relative here, a passing acquaintance there. Each story is both completely individual and one thread in the whole tapestry. In that way I found myself deeply invested in the characters and their chapters, while also finding myself jumping backwards to double check if I had really read what I thought I read. The context changing as the spiral tightens. Everything leading to the powwow and the events that unfold there. I won't go into it, to talk about where it all leads is to spoil the ending and the ending is both shocking and the inevitable conclusion of the paths the characters were all walking.
There, There somehow manages to be both uniquely Native American while providing a universality that allows those who don't share this specific history to make a connection nonetheless. There, There deserves all the accolades and awards it has received. If you haven't read it, do. It's one that I know I will refer back to and read again.
A Question on Analyzing Books:
So like I said, we read this book as part of my Indigenous Lit course and as part of that course we dug deep into the books we read. Stories by and about Native American writers like Morning Dove and Tommy Orange. Books published 100 years ago and those published just last year. As we read we looked for meaning, tied the stories on the pages to the events occurring at the time, argued about what the author might have meant by a reference. Through it all we worked together, and sometimes against each other, to figure out why these books in particular were important, why the author wrote them, what importance they might have seen.
Sometimes there were interviews that we could reference or other articles that would give insight to what the author felt or meant, but more often then not it was just us, guessing at meaning by using the clues were were able to pull from the story and our knowledge of the time the story was set in or even written in. It's a fun exercise and I enjoy the debate, of seeing where our personal biases and experiences color our interpretation. Still, something about it has always left me on edge, because I have seen in teaching where a question on a state exam or a story in an ELA unit will give a definite answer to something in a story only to have the actual authors of the story come out and say "well, that's not what I meant at all". All of this is to say that whenever possible I try to ask the author, and I try to impress upon my students to ask the author. Even if they don't answer, at least there is an attempt to get to the heart of it.
For me I was delighted to see that he lectured much in the same way I teach. Basically, here's what we should absolutely remember to say, but also let me tell you this cool story. Orange was concerned that he was not a lecturer, but I found the whole thing pretty spot on. At there end there was time for questions, which is where this whole thing really comes back together for me.
I was lucky enough to be able to ask the last question of the night and I chose to ask about something that had come up in our discussions in class. There, There opens with what we generally categorized (in class) as a non-fiction essay prologue that speaks to the violent history that Native Americans had to deal with in the US. There is also an interlude that delves back into those topics. As a class we talked about the importance of the prologue and why Orange might have included it. We talked about how it gave the book context, gave it a backstory. We talked about how if you were not a person with a knowledge of how Native Americans were treated in the US, it would help frame the story to come. So last night at the lecture I asked Orange why he had chosen to write what was essentially a non-fiction Prologue before moving into the book proper.
His response was pretty simple, and made total sense, while not at all being anything we had discussed in class. Orange first said that he didn't even know that he had written a non-fiction essay. That it was just writing and the information was important to the story. He also said that what he loves about prologues is that you don't have to follow any of the rules that you set for the rest of the book. His book is told from multiple perspectives set in the present day, this important information didn't particularly fit into that format, so it became the prologue. He said the other great thing about a prologue is that if you're a person who hates a prologue you can just skip it and still get the story. This information, while important, wasn't part of the narrative proper and so if you read it, the information enriched the story, but if you didn't read it, you would still get the story. In all the analyzing we did, these weren't things we considered. That isn't to say the things we spoke about were wrong, they just simply weren't the whole picture.
Which brings me back around to my dilemma. How do you have students (or adults for that matter) make personal connections and analyze literature while also balancing the authors actual perspective? Do authors like us to reach out and ask, and if so what is the best way to do so? What if the author is no longer living- is there a way to figure it out or is it enough to simply say "we may never know what they truly meant, but here is what we can infer"?
These are questions that I don't have an answer to, but I'm glad I was given the opportunity to ask Orange last night, his answer enhanced and shifted my reading of his book, which is always an exciting thing.
While there is no video of the lecture I attended last night, I am attaching a video of Orange speaking at Politics and Prose at the Wharf in June 2018. He reads from the book and at the 12:20 mark he specifically speaks to the prologue.
We are on leg 2 of our 5 week road trip and I've been splitting driving duties for this part, which means more reading time for me! So over the past week or so I've been plowing through books, I've even had to stop at 2 different book stores for more books. This is by far my favorite thing- discovering new indie book shops. For a long time my go to road trip book stores have been Books & Company in Oconomowoc, WI and The Book Peddler in West Yellowstone, MT. I was lucky enough to come across 2 more phenomenal shops- Back of Beyond Books in Moab, UT (amazing rare book collection- I could have stayed there for days!) and Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, CO. Needless to say, I've been reading a lot, and since internet is scarce in these parts, I'm not going to give a whole post to each book, I'm just going to smush them all into one post and let you guys know what I loved, what drove me nuts and which author is emerging as a new favorite.
The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda
Release Date: May 24th 2016
Can fear be inherited?
Kelsey has lived most of her life in a shadow of fear, raised to see danger everywhere. Her mother hasn’t set foot outside their front door in seventeen years, since she escaped from her kidnappers with nothing but her attacker’s baby growing inside her—Kelsey.
Kelsey knows she’s supposed to keep a low profile for their own protection, but that plan is shattered when she drives off a cliff and is rescued by volunteer firefighter and classmate Ryan Baker.
A few days later, she arrives home to face her greatest fear: her mother is missing. She and her mother have drilled for all contingencies—except this one. Luckily, Ryan is as skilled at emergency rescues as Kelsey is at escape and evasion.
To have a chance at a future, Kelsey will have to face all her darkest fears. Because someone is coming for her.
And the truth about the past may end up being the most dangerous thing of all.
My Ramblings: Meghan Miranda is phenomenal author. Time and time again her books manage to suck me in and keep me on the edge of my seat. For some reason I keep letting her books slip through the cracks, but I really need to stop doing that! This time the plot is relatively simple, or so you think, until little by little the truth that Kelsey thought she was living begins to come unraveled. Nothing is what it seems, and Miranda manages to keep the story propelling forward at a fast clip, while still making sure that nothing is left behind, even a past that might better be forgotten. I LOVED this book. I can't believe it took me this long to find it!
It's Not Me, It's You by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Release Date: October 25th, 2016
One high school girl's comedic examination of her dating past as told by the friends, family, and boys who were involved!
Avery Dennis is a high school senior and one of the most popular girls in her class. But a majorly public breakup with the guy she's been dating causes some disastrous waves. It is right before prom and Avery no longer has the perfect date. She runs the prom committee, how could she not show up with somebody?
Post-breakup, Avery gets to thinking about all of the guys that she has ever dated. How come none of those relationships ever worked out? Could it be her fault? Avery decides to investigate. In history class she's learning about this method of record-keeping called "oral history" and she has a report due. So Avery decides to go directly to the source. Avery tracks down all of the guys she's ever dated, and uses that information, along with thoughts from her friends, family, and teachers, to compile a total account of her dating history.
Avery discovers some surprises about herself and the guys she's spent time with -- just in time for prom night!
My Ramblings: This was another great book. I was really hesitant with the format at first, written like an oral history, the story bounces from character to character interview style, with occasional input from the main character Avery. Strohm does a great job keeping the story line clear and making sure each person has a fully rounded persona, which can be really hard to do with this format. I really enjoyed following Avery as she tries to figure out what all of her past relationships mean about her. Throughout the story we see characters who by and large are incredibly realistic, some are nice, some are mean, some are smart, some are not, but all the character feel wholly realized. I had mixed feelings about the ending and whether or not I wanted Avery to attend prom alone or with a date, but the choice she makes works perfectly for her, so I'm okay with it! I can't wait to find some more books from this author.
Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Opal
Release Date: September 20, 2016 (apparently I'm feeling very '06)
Somewhere in the Badlands, embedded deep in centuries-buried rock and sand, lies the skeleton of a massive dinosaur, larger than anything the late nineteenth-century world has ever seen. Some legends call it the Black Beauty, with its bones as black as ebony, but to seventeen-year-old Samuel Bolt, it’s the “rex,” the king dinosaur that could put him and his struggling, temperamental archaeologist father in the history books (and conveniently make his father forget he’s been kicked out of school), if they can just quarry it out.
But Samuel and his father aren’t the only ones after the rex. For Rachel Cartland this find could be her ticket to a different life, one where her loves of science and adventure aren’t just relegated to books and sitting rooms. And if she can’t prove herself on this expedition with her professor father, the only adventures she may have to look forward to are marriage or spinsterhood.
As their paths cross and the rivalry between their fathers becomes more intense, Samuel and Rachel are pushed closer together. Their flourishing romance is one that will never be allowed. And with both eyeing the same prize, it’s a romance that seems destined for failure. As their attraction deepens, danger looms on the other side of the hills, causing everyone’s secrets to come to light and forcing Samuel and Rachel to make a decision. Can they join forces to find their quarry, and with it a new life together, or will old enmities and prejudices keep them from both the rex and each other?
My Ramblings: So I really wanted to love this book. In theory it should have ticked all the boxes. History, adventure, a little romance, danger, etc, etc, etc. Unfortunately it also hit on my biggest pet peeve. Changing history. The Bone Wars are incredibly interesting- it was a time when two paleontologists went essentially head to head trying to unearth dinosaurs in the late 1800's. I can only assume that the parents of the two main characters are based on the two real Paleontologists, Edward Cope who worked out of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and Othniel Charles Marsh who was from Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. Except the things these characters do in the book are not particularly attributed to the real people they appear to be based on. Yes, they had a rivalry at the Tar Pits in NJ, and they traveled west to discover new species (often butting heads in violent and underhanded ways), but the one dino they didn't discover was the T-rex, which was discovered by a man named Barnum Brown in the early 1900's. Except, this book almost exclusively revolves around discovering the T-rex in the Badlands. (it was found in Montana). I was so preoccupied by how not-correct the story was that the book ended up being a complete disaster for me. I spent more time researching the actual happenings of the Bone Wars then I did reading the book. This might be a me problem (and this isn't the first book I've had this issue with), but I can't stand when a book is so very clearly based on real people and locations, but deviates just enough to give bad information.
I wanted to love this book, but in the end it just kind of made me mad. I will say that it introduced me to a few historic figures that until now I was unaware of and it's been really interesting learning about the Bone Wars and how it impacted science, paleontology and the people (both looking for bones and those protecting their lands) at the heart of the expeditions.
As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
Release Date: January 2nd, 2018
What if you could ask for anything- and get it?
In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.
Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.
My Ramblings: This was a really interesting book that on the surface seems to be simply about a town where everyone gets a wish on their 18th birthday and how that can effect a community. The more I read, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was much deeper then that. At first blush it would seem that getting one wish would be fabulous. You can wish for (almost) anything and how could that be anything but good. Dig a little deeper, as Eldon and his friends do, and you begin to realize that life is never that simple and that one decision can have lasting and unforeseen effects. Sedoti does a great job at taking us through the town of Madison as Eldon tries to decide what he really wants out of life and what he is willing to do to get it. I also rather like that the magic of the wishes is left up in the air, there's no grand explanation, no big reveal, just the understanding that sometimes magic exists and it's not always something that should be used. I really enjoyed this story and the lessons that were hidden in between the lines.
The Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely
Release Date: January 2nd, 2018
Seventeen-year-old Serendipity "Pity" Jones inherited two things from her mother: a pair of six shooters and perfect aim. She's been offered a life of fame and fortune in Cessation, a glittering city where lawlessness is a way of life. But the price she pays for her freedom may be too great....
In this extraordinary debut from Lyndsay Ely, the West is once again wild after a Second Civil War fractures the U.S. into a broken, dangerous land. Pity's struggle against the dark and twisted underbelly of a corrupt city will haunt you long after the final bullet is shot.
My Ramblings: Overall this was a really fun book that combined two of my favorite things, future dystopia and wild west, which are things that you wouldn't normally slap together, but somehow Ely really makes it work. Pit Jones is a great character- about to be forced into an arranged marraige she strikes out with a friend, only to encounter danger that she isn't prepared to face, picked up by strangers she finds herself in a lawless town with only one option... perform as a sharpshooter in the circus. Pity becomes a futuristic Annie Oakley, forced to not only shoot in the show, but also shoot to kill if she's ordered to. Pity has to find out who she can trust and what she is really capable of. This was a really fun, quick read and I'm glad I grabbed it off the shelf.
Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.
Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.
Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter...
This was a really phenomenal book- it deals with what might be supernatural things, but the way they are framed, even as a reader you aren't sure what's real and whats not, whats happening in real life and what's happening in the characters heads. What is clear is that this book deals with the very real issue of mental illness and how it effects not just the person who is has the illness, but everyone around them
At the heart of the story are Kyra and Corey, best friends who were seperated when Corey's mom moved for a job. Left behind in the very quirky town of Lost, Alaska, Kyra finds herself very literally lost and alone, trying to cope with Bipolar disorder in a town that doesn't understand her at best and is afraid of her at worst. Kyra spirals out of control and without Corey there to ground her she takes her own life. Where the story really gets interesting is when Corey begins to dig into Kyra's death and discovers the town she once loved may have contributed to Kyra's death much more heavily then she thought possible. The town has changed and Corey is no longer welcome, but first she must survive a week in Lost while trying to preserve the memory of a friend she loved. This book takes a lot of twists and turns, but at it's heart is about 2 friends who lost their way and a community that wanted to assign meaning to an illness they didn't understand, even if it meant killing Kyra.
For me, this book has more meaning beyond being a really excellent story. As someone who has both anxiety and depression, it was easy to relate to Kyra, and to see the toll it can take on those around you who just don't understand. I could feel Kyra's frustration when she wanted people to just accept her as who she is, bipolar disorder and all, and still want to get better, to feel more "normal", to stop the swing from mania to depression, to feel like she belonged. All in all, Nijkamp does an amazing job taking very real issues that surround mental illness and the lack of understanding that can come with it, and weave it into a story that leaves you wondering about the secrets little town keep and the magic they cling to when they feel their world falling apart.
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